Lady In The Water

From the Chicago Reader (July 14, 2007). — J.R.

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Paul Giamatti plays a stuttering everyman, an apartment-building janitor who’s itching for redemption and finds it in the shape of a new age allegory by M. Night Shyamalan. More specifically, he finds a fairy-tale nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) living under the building’s swimming pool and menaced by occult beasties until the tenants join forces against them. It’s hard to think of a deadlier shotgun marriage than Jacques Tourneur’s poetry of absence and Spielbergian uplift, but Shyamalan has patented the combo, adding pretentious camera movements that are peculiarly his own — even the jokes are pretty solemn. But count on Christopher Doyle’s lush cinematography and a lively cast to take up the slack. With Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, Sarita Choudhury, Freddy Rodriguez, Bill Irwin, Jared Harris, and Shyamalan, playing a writer. PG-13, 110 min. (JR)

 … Read more »

The Elusive Moment of Thought

This appeared in the Chicago Reader (July 30, 1993). –J.R.

THE LONG DAY CLOSES

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Terence Davies

With Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates, Ayse Owens, Nicholas Lamont, Anthony Watson, Tina Malone, and Jimmy Wilde.

I began making films [out of] a deep need . . . to come to terms with my family’s history and suffering, to make sense of the past and to explore my own personal terrors, both mental and spiritual, and to examine the destructive nature of Catholicism. Film as an expression of guilt, film as confession (psychotherapy would be much cheaper but a lot less fun). — Terence Davies

With The Long Day Closes English filmmaker Terence Davies completes his second autobiographical trilogy. (Faber and Faber has conveniently published the screenplays of the six films — all his films to date –  with an introduction by Davies, under the title A Modest Pageant.) I haven’t seen the first trilogy – Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980), and Death and Transfiguration (1983) — but the first two parts of the second, shot in 1985 and 1987 and distributed as a single feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), still strikes me as one of the greatest of all English films.… Read more »

Flash and Filigree [MINORITY REPORT]

From the Chicago Reader (June 28, 2002). — J.R.

Minority Report *** (A must-see)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen

With Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Lois Smith, Peter Stormare, Tim Blake Nelson, Steve Harris, and Kathryn Morris.

Since my early teens I’ve been stubbornly clinging to a copy of the October 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, featuring the first installment of Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, a mystery story set in a vast city of the future. I prize this particular issue not for anything inside but for the cover illustration by “Emsh,” the name future filmmaker Ed Emshwiller used to sign his artwork. In the foreground two transparent hands — one revealing human bones, the other metal ones — are shown in front of the vast reaches of an enclosed cityscape with pedestrians. This encouraged me to consider not only a future city but also how it might look to both a human and a robot detective.

No story, by Asimov or anyone else, could do as much for my imagination as that Emsh cover. The only thing that came close was a single sentence by Damon Knight in his review of Asimov’s novel, which may have been what led me to the novel and that issue of Galaxy in the first place: “Asimov has turned a clear, ironic, and compassionate eye on every cranny of the City: the games children play on the moving streets; the legends that have grown up about deserted corridors; the customs and taboos in Section kitchens and men’s rooms; the very feel, smell, and texture of those steel caves in which men live and die.” This helped me imagine a future city, though unlike the Emsh cover or A.I.Read more »

The American Cinema

From Film Society Review (Vol. 4, No. 5, January 1969) — the first magazine, apart from school and college publications, where I ever published film criticism, for a total of three issues. This was my third and final piece for them. — J.R.

Jon Rosenbaum

THE AMERICAN CINEMA: DIRECTORS AND DIRECTIONS 1929-1968, by Andrew Sarris, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1968. 383 pp. $7.95, $2.95 (paperback).

Ever since it came out, I have been stubbornly holding on to the Spring 1963 issue of FILM CULTURE, which features a 68-page extravaganza by Andrew Sarris entitled THE AMERICAN CINEMA. ‘Extravaganza’, is not, I think, an overblown word to use here: the program includes detailed descriptions, evaluations and filmographies of over 100 film directors, with a supplementary list of more than 150 “Other Directors” and a “Directorial Chronology” of American films from l9l5 to 1962. At the time, the very fact that one man had seen enough movies to reach this kind of astronomical overview was staggering enough. Just as challenging — and in its own way, unnerving — were the nine categories under which the first hundred-odd directors were pigeon-holed: “Pantheon Directors,” “Second Line,” “Third Line,” “Esoterica,” “Beyond the Fringe,” “Fallen ldols,” ”Likable But Elusive,” “Minor Disappointments” and “Oddities and One Shots” — an almost metaphysical ordering of the American movie universe that looked so painstaking it was painful — and rather threatening, I believe, even to some of the most veteran of moviegoers.… Read more »

BFI Monographs

From Film Quarterly (Summer 1979). Sad to say, the Aldrich and Ophüls books are now so scarce that I couldn’t even find their jacket illustrations on the Internet until a reader, Luke Aspell, generously furnished them to me. –- J.R.

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ROBERT ALDRICH. Edited by Richard Combs. London: British Film lnstitute, 1978. $3.25.

POWELL, PRESSBURGER AND OTHERS. Edited by Ian Christie. London: British Film lnstitute, 1978. $4.50.

OPHÜLS. Edited by Paul Willemen. London: British Film lnstitute, 1978. $3.50.

Perhaps the most striking difference between the current batch of British Film Institute monographs and the previous series issued under the now-defunct aegis of Cinema One (a joint effort of the BFI and the English publisher Secker & Warburg) is the relation of each to academic film studies. The Cinema One books, designed as popular laymen’s introductions to relatively obscure subjects, were lavishly illustrated with stills and frame enlargements, appeared both in paperback and hardcovers, and rarely proceeded beyond the format of one critic per subject.

The new line of BFI books, which appear only in paperback, are much closer to academic “casebooks”: the texts are usually longer, illustrations are omitted (apart from black-and-white stills on the covers), and the critical perspectives in most cases are multiple.… Read more »

I Missed It at the Movies: Objections to “Raising KANE”

From the Spring 1972 issue of Film Comment; this is also reprinted, with a lot of contextual material, in my 2007 collection Discovering Orson Welles (where I’ve also retained my original title — not used by Film Comment, who ran it as an untitled review). I’m still hugely embarrassed by the assertion early in this piece that “[Kael’s] basic contention, that the script of KANE is almost solely the work of Herman J. Mankiewicz, seems well-supported and convincing” — a howler if there ever was one. I’m not sure if this would qualify as a valid excuse, but this was the first lengthy essay about film that I ever published.

Recently I‘ve been reading Brian Kellow’s biography of Pauline Kael, and I’m very pleased that he’s up front about the serious flaws of “Raising KANE,” factual and otherwise — but also disappointed that Kellow is unaware that “The Kane Mutiny” — signed by Peter Bogdanovich, and the best riposte to Kael’s essay ever published by anyone — was mainly written by Welles himself. (See This is Orson Welles and Discovering Orson Welles for more about this extraordinary act of impersonation.) It appears that the main source of this doubtful assumption in Kellow’s book is Bogdanovich himself.Read more »

Les Valseuses (1975 review) 

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 503). I think I must have permanently jinxed the possibility of ever becoming a friend of Pauline Kael’s by introducing myself to her after the New York Film Festival’s press screening of Get Out Your Handkerchiefs in 1978. Clearly enraptured, she promptly asked me what I thought of the film, and I replied, “Well, at least it’s better than Les valseuses,” which she deeply revered as well. — J.R.

France, 1974
Director: Bertrand Blier

After harassing a woman in the street and stealing her purse, Jean-Claude and Pierrot steal a Citroen for the afternoon; when they return it, the hairdresser owner holds them at gunpoint until they manage to escape during a scuffle, taking the hairdresser’s girlfriend Marie-Ange with them. Pierrot, however, is shot in the groin; the two force a surgeon to treat the wound and then take his money. When they abandon another stolen car to hop a train, Jean-Claude pays a young mother to suckle Pierrot before she gets off to meet her soldier husband. They take another train to the town of Briddle, where they break into a house whose owners are away but where they excitedly discover the underwear of teenager Jacqueline.… Read more »

How The West Was Won

From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 2001). — J.R.

John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall directed the individual episodes of this 1962 triptych about the settling of the American frontier, originally released in Cinerama. The Ford episode, about the Civil War, is uncommonly good; the rest is expendable, especially without the three-screen process. With Carroll Baker, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Carolyn Jones, Eli Wallach, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, John Wayne, and Richard Widmark. 155 min. (JR)

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Eastern Promise

From Movies of the Fifties, edited by Ann Lloyd (London: Orbis Publishing, 1982). Prior to this, it was published in one of the “chapters” of The Movie in 1981 or 1982, but I’m no longer clear about which one. — J.R.

For two centuries, Japan chose to isolate itself from the rest of the world. Then, in 1894, the American Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay and ‘rediscovered’ the Japanese islands. Yet nothing was known about Japanese cinema in the West for almost another century. The difference was that whereas Perry had come upon a country that appeared technologically backward, the west encountered a cinema that was, on the evidence of the films that began to be shown in the Fifties, every bit as advanced as its own.

By and large western recognition and appreciation of Japanese films can be said to have dated from the appearance of key movies at the Venice and Cannes Film Festivals.Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) won the Golden Lion at Venice in 1951 and the same honor was bestowed upon four films by Kenji Mizoguchi in the succeeding years. The films were: Saikaku Ichidai Onna (1952, The Life of Oharu),Ugetsu Monogatari (1953, Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain), Sansho Dayu (1954, Sansho the Bailiff ) and Yokihi (1955, The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei).… Read more »

Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough

From Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1975, Vol. 42, No. 499. — J.R.

Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough

U. S.A., 1974Director: Guy Green

Cert--AA. dist–CIC. p.c–Paramount Pictures. In association with

Sujac Productions and Aries Films. exec. p–Irving Mansfield. p–Howard

W. Koch. p. manager–Howard W. Koch Jnr. asst. d–Howard W. Koch

Jnr., Lee Rafner. sc–Julius J. Epstein. Based on the novel Once Is Not

Enough by Jacqueline Susann. ph–John A. Alonzo. Panavision. col

Movielab. ed–Rita Roland. p. designer--John DeCuir. a.d–David

Marshall. setdec–Ruby Levitt. m–Henry Mancini. songs—“Once Is

Not Enough” by Henry Mancini, Larry Kusik, sung by–The Mancni

Singers; “All the wav” by Sammy Cahn, James van Heusen, sung by

Frank Sinatra. titles–Dan Perri. sd. ed–Robert Cornett. sd. rec–Larry

Jost. sd. re-rec–Doc Wilkinson. l.p–Kirk Douglas (Mike Wayne),

Alexis Smith (Deidre Milford Granger), David Janssen (Tom Colt),

George Hamilton (David Milford), Melina Mercouri (Karla), Gary

Conway (Hugh Robertson), Brenda Vaccaro (Linda Riggs), Deborah

Raffin, (January Wayne), Lillian Randolph (Mabel), Renata Vanni (Maria),

Mark Roberts (Rhinegold), John Roper (Franco), Leonard Sachs (Dr.Read more »

THE GHOST THAT NEVER RETURNS (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1976. — J.R.

Prividenie, Kotoroe ne Vozvrashchaetsya
(The Ghost that Never Returns)

U.S.S.R., 1929
Director: Abram Room

 

In an unidentified South American country, José Real is serving a life sentence for having led an oilfield workers’ strike ten years earlier. After another prisoner breaks away from guards to tell him that the prison governor has a letter from his wife, and then leaps to his death, Real leads a revolt among the prisoners. The governor orders that they be sprayed with hoses; the revolt subsides, and Real is locked into a narrow cupboard. Conferring with the chief of the secret service, the governor recalls the regulation whereby a prisoner who has served ten years is entitled to one day’s liberty and decides to grant this to Real, with the understanding that he will be killed at the day’s end for trying to ‘escape’. After being shown his wife’s letter and hearing from a newly arrived prisoner that a new strike is planned at Hillside Well, Real agrees to go. Five days later – after news of his imminent arrival has reached his family, their neighbors and the oilfield workers — he sets out, warned that no one who has taken this leave has ever made it back alive.… Read more »

Wall of Sound (on MORTAL THOUGHTS)

This appeared in the Chicago Reader on April 26, 1991. Consider this review Part 2 of a long-term re-evaluation of Alan Rudolph’s use of music and his treatment of working-class people, preceded by my 1979 review of Remember My Name for  Film Quarterly. — J.R.

 

MORTAL THOUGHTS

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Alan Rudolph

Written by William Reilly and Claude Kerven

With Demi Moore, Glenne Headly, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, John Pankow, and Billie Neal.

For all his talent and sophistication, Alan Rudolph has frequently shown a romantic slant toward the working class that borders on stylistic gentrification. Even in my two Rudolph favorites, Remember My Name (1978) and Choose Me (1984), the ironic casting of a construction worker and his wife with real-life mod couple Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson and the creation of a dream-bubble ambience in a gritty bar suggest a kind of put-on.

Life is a dream, Rudolph always appears to be saying, and the more sordid and low-down the life is, the more seductive and precious the dream becomes. It’s a viable enough premise for a mannerist, and he invariably makes the most of this conceit; yet there are times when his taste for cardboard funk causes his worlds to totter like houses of cards.… Read more »

Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen

From the Winter, 1995 issue of Cineaste. — J.R.

Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen

by Michel Chion. Translated and edited by Claudia Gorbman; Introduction by Walter Murch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 239 pp., illus., Hardcover: $93.00; Paperback: $23.85.

Eighteen years ago, during my first quarter of film teaching, I terminally alienated some of my students in a lecture course on film esthetics with the following lesson in materialism. First I showed them Buñuel and Dali’s silent Un chien andalou several times, each time with a radically different musical accompaniment. Then I asked them on a quiz whether the statement, “The use of different kinds of music to accompany a silent film changes the film profoundly,” was true or false. Afterwards I explained to them that such a statement could only be false because the film remained the same regardless of whatever music accompanied it; the music changed only the way we looked at and ‘read’ the film, not the film itself.

I’m not recommending this as a teaching method, especially if one wants one’s contract renewed (mine wasn’t), but I’m bringing it up to illustrate the degree to which a certain amount of mystification about the relationship between image and sound is firmly entrenched in the way we think about film.… Read more »

Recommended Viewing: Travel Ban

Because everything that we call news qualifies in some ways as propaganda that seeks to entertain as well as engage us, what we’re usually seeking is entertaining propaganda. From this standpoint, one of the most watchable and entertaining things I’ve seen lately is Travel Ban: Make America Laugh Again, a lively documentary about Middle Eastern standup comedians in the U.S. It’s every bit as funny and as lively as Bill Maher’s Real Time, and it’s well worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time. [10/14/2018]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnT1sKFu7XM

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Reflections on Agee’s Complete Film Criticism: Reviews, Essays, and Manuscripts

Posted on the Film Comment web site, October 16, 2017. A French translation of this essay by Jean-Luc Mengus has recently been published in Trafic. — J.R.

Agee

My late father was never a cinephile, not even remotely, but he managed and programmed a small chain of movie theaters in northwestern Alabama for about a quarter of a century, from the mid-’30s to 1960. And during most or all of that period, he read Time magazine every week, from cover to cover. This means that from September 1942, half a year before I was born, until early November 1948, and not counting all the press books that passed through his office and the various trade journals he subscribed to, just about everything he read and knew about movies came from the so-called Cinema pages of Time, and most of these were written by James Agee.

AgeeFTFphoto_17

But he probably had little or no idea who Agee was during this period, even though their stints at Harvard had overlapped, because none of Agee’s writing for Time was signed and my father usually didn’t read The Nation while Agee was concurrently writing his film column there. It’s unlikely that he saw Abraham Lincoln, the Early Years on Omnibus in 1952 because we didn’t have a TV set then, and more probable that he saw The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky in Face to Face the following year at one of his theaters.… Read more »